CHAPTER 16 REST CENTRES

Accommodation

Before the war we had circularised the various Churches and other bodies with premises likely to be of use to us, and had obtained information as to the extent of accommodation which could be made avail-able for housing homeless persons, including such particulars as floor space, lavatory accommodation, cooking facilities, etc. It was decided, however, by the appropriate Ministry that the Public Assistance Authority (in our case the Essex County Council), should be responsible for Rest Centres and accordingly, with some misgiving, we sent to the County Council the whole of the information at our disposal.

A considerable time after the war had begun the Essex County Council sent us their proposals for first and second-line Rest Centres, and we noted with concern that the first-line Rest Centres consisted almost entirely of cinemas and that the major proposal was for the use of the Granada Cinema which was listed as available to take 3,000 people. Just what it was expected 3,000 people would do in the Granada was not clear as there were obviously no facilities for lying down, while the lavatory accommodation and washing facilities normal to a cinema would not be the slightest use for Rest Centre purposes.

The County representative was interviewed and the disadvantages which would arise from his proposals were pointed out to him. We then mentioned that we had taken a census of all suitable halls in Walthamstow many months previously and had obtained particulars of the information which it seemed to us necessary to have before deciding where homeless persons could be housed. We gave him an outline of the information we had obtained and he expressed a view that this was very helpful and asked for a copy. We then produced a letter from the E.C.C. acknowledging receipt of a copy!

However the E.C.C. thereafter began to tackle this problem seriously and asked us to act as their agents. As a result arrangements were put in hand to provide proper Rest Centre accommodation at various halls together with cooking, washing and lavatory facilities and, at a later stage, the provision of protected accommodation at the seventeen Rest Centres that were chosen as " first line" Centres. (The Centre at Wood ford Green Council School served Walthamstow and Woodford.) To provide against the possibility of damage by heavy raids eleven other Centres were designated as "second line" (or " Shadow ") Rest Centres.

In accordance with our normal District Scheme of decentralisation, arrangements were made so that, in the event of persons being rendered homeless either by bomb damage or by evacuation consequent upon U.X.B.s, they should in the first place go to the District Centre. At the District Centre arrangements were made to provide these people with a cup of tea and biscuits until such time as a Rest Centre or Centres could be made available, and the Rest Centre Officer at C.D.H.Q. was responsible for the opening of such Rest Centres as were required according to the place and the amount of damage which was suffered. (Later it was generally found possible to open a Centre forthwith and it became unnecessary to send people first to the District Centre.)

For the accommodation of aged or infirm homeless persons needing attention but not requiring hospital treatment, the E.C.C. opened two Medical Rest Centres to which such persons could be transferred from the ordinary Rest Centres. During the Fly Bomb Blitz of 1944 the machinery for dealing with such cases was found to be rather too slow and (with the support of the E.C.C.), we adapted two sections of a large surface public shelter in Palmerston Road for the temporary reception of such persons pending transfer to the permanent Centres.

Helpers

Volunteers for work at the Rest Centres were recruited through ad hoc Committees set up on a Municipal Ward basis and, together with workers from the various Churches, rendered invaluable assistance in manning the Rest Centres at all hours. In addition the W.V.S. had a special recruiting Section for Rest Centre helpers, and at a later stage additional helpers for Rest Centres were also recruited under the Invasion Defence Scheme.

Animals

A very humane and kindly thought on the part of the E.C.C. Officers also resulted in 1944 in the opening of an Animals Rest Centre in an abandoned school, and to this were brought cats, dogs, rabbits and even fowls. (The disposal of eggs provided no problem particularly as one of the symptoms of shock in fowls was a cessation of production!) The Centre was in use more or less continuously until 24th April, 1945, and during that period 71 cats, 54 dogs, 40 rabbits, 55 chickens, 4 cage birds and 2 ducks were dealt with in addition to which the Animals Rescue Officer kept at his home a parrot which had been bombed-out four times. The only deaths at the Centre were 3 cage birds who suffered from shock. Initial difficulties were experienced owing to the question of obtaining meat, but this was relieved by assistance from the R.S.P.C.A.

Miscellaneous

The number of occasions on which the Rest Centres were opened was not so many as might have been feared and probably the busiest single evening was on 20th April, 1941, when we had to house some 80O people due largely to the incidence of three unexploded mines. Initially, all meals were provided from the Central Kitchen at Pretoria Avenue School, the meals being conveyed in containers to the various Rest Centres which were in use, but at a later date cooking equipment was installed at the first-line Rest Centres. The detailed arrangements for Rest Centres throughout were made by Walthamstow Council Officers acting in close collaboration with County Officers, and a Rest Centre Control at the Old Town Hall was constantly manned by the Borough.

It is claimed, and this view was supported by Ministry and County Officials, that the Walthamstow Rest Centre Service was second to none in Essex.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen